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Thousands of cars including Audis, Porsches adrift on burning cargo ship

An internal email from Volkswagen’s U.S. operations revealed there were 3,965 Volkswagen AG vehicles aboard the ship. Headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany, the group manufactures its Volkswagen brand, as well as Porsche, Audi, and Lamborghini— all of which were in tow when the vessel set ablaze, the email said.

Rows of newly manufactured Volkswagen AG (VW) and Audi AG automobiles sit parked before shipping outside the VW factory at the port in Emden, Germany, on Friday, March 9, 2018. (Bloomberg)

The Felicity Ace, a massive Panama-flagged cargo ship carrying thousands of Volkswagen Group vehicles, caught fire near the Azores islands in the Atlantic Ocean Wednesday afternoon.

The ship’s 22 crewmembers were successfully evacuated and taken to a local hotel by the Portuguese Navy and Air Force, who were deployed to help with the rescue effort, according to a statement from the Navy. The ship itself was left unmanned and adrift.

An internal email from Volkswagen’s U.S. operations revealed there were 3,965 Volkswagen AG vehicles aboard the ship. Headquartered in Wolfsburg, Germany, the group manufactures its Volkswagen brand, as well as Porsche, Audi, and Lamborghini— all of which were in tow when the vessel set ablaze, the email said.

Over 100 of those cars were headed for Port of Houston in Texas, with GTI, Golf R, and ID.4 models deemed to be at risk, according to the email. This latest hit comes as the automobile industry is already ensnared in ongoing supply chain issues, including pandemic labor woes and semiconductor chip shortages.

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Luke Vandezande, a spokesperson for Porsche, said the company estimates around 1,100 of its vehicles were among those on board Felicity Ace at the time of the fire. He said customers affected by the incident are being contacted by their automobile dealers. “Our immediate thoughts are of relief that the 22 crew of the merchant ship Felicity Ace are safe and well,” Vandezande said.

It’s not the first time the manufacturer has lost merchandise at sea. When the Grande America caught fire and sank in 2019, over 2,000 luxury cars, including Audi and Porsche, sank with it.

Some customers expressed their disappointment on social media. One Twitter user reported his custom spec’d Porsche Boxter Spyder was among the departed cargo. Standard models of the vehicle start around $99,650.

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A spokesperson for Lamborghini’s U.S. branch declined to comment on the number of cars the company had on board or which models were affected, but said that they are in contact with the shipping company to get more information about the incident.

Felicity Ace is roughly the size of three football fields and was en route to a port in Davisville, R.I., when a distress signal was issued due to fire on one of its cargo decks.

As of Wednesday night, the ship’s owner was arranging for the vessel to be towed, the Navy said. They plan to remain on site to monitor the situation, reporting no detectable traces of pollution so far.

First published on: 18-02-2022 at 12:06 IST
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